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‘Sent to earth to serve mankind’

Dr. Charn Nandra honored as Ohio’s 2020 Free Clinic Physician of the Year

AWARD RECIPIENT — Earlier this month, Dr. Charn S. Nandra was honored as Ohio’s 2020 Free Clinic Physician of the Year by the Columbus-based Charitable Healthcare Network. Nandra serves as the volunteer medical director of the Ohio Valley Health Center, 423 South St., Steubenville, formerly the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center, of which he was one of the “founding fathers’ and longest serving volunteers. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — One of the “founding fathers” and longest serving volunteers of the Ohio Valley Health Center — previously known as the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center — has been singled out for a prestigious state honor.

Dr. Charn S. Nandra, who volunteers as the center’s medical director and has been a part of it since its opening in 2006, has been recognized as Ohio’s 2020 Free Clinic Physician of the Year by the Columbus-based Charitable Healthcare Network.

The network is the governing body for 52 free and charitable clinics in 61 counties in Ohio which are celebrating the sixth-annual Free Clinic Appreciation Month in December, so designated by the Ohio Legislature with the passage of House Bill 320 in 2014.

Nandra’s honor came Dec. 9 during a virtual award presentation, a COVID-19 substitute for what would have been a celebration of some fanfare, including a banquet in Columbus. Instead, Nandra met at the local health center at 423 South St., Steubenville, with Ann Quillen, its executive director, and board representatives Tom Timmons and Anthony Mougianis for the Zoom presentation that also involved Deb Miller, executive director of the CHN, formerly known as the Ohio Association of Free Clinics.

The CHN is a nonprofit organization that provides resources, education and advocacy for more than 50 charitable health care facilities across Ohio. Its membership is diverse, including but not limited to free clinics, charitable clinics, hybrid clinics, rural health clinics and charitable pharmacies. The network acts as a connector for all members to fortify the social safety net in Ohio, according to promotional material.

“Our clinic fills a critical need for health care services, particularly for hard-working Ohioans struggling to make ends meet,” Quillen said, noting, that Free Clinic Appreciation Month “gives us an opportunity to celebrate all that we have accomplished, and how we’ve filled the gaps of the health care system in Steubenville.”

As part of Free Clinic Appreciation Month in December, the CHN and Ohio Department of Health recognize the accomplishments of free clinics with various awards that also include free clinic of the year, free clinic volunteer nurse of the year and community volunteer of the year.

In 2019, Ohio’s free clinics provided more than 150,000 visits to more than 55,000 patients, with volunteer physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals providing nearly 180,000 hours of care to those who have fallen through the cracks of Ohio’s health care system.

Ohio’s free clinics are on track to obtain similar service hours even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, 31 of CHN’s 52 clinics remained open to provide medical services in a time when their communities needed them most. OVHC was able to expand and adapt its services, Quillen added, to continue serving the local community while upholding the safety of staff and patients.

“While the ACA and Medicaid Expansion has helped thousands of Ohioans obtain health insurance, gaps still remain,” Miller noted. “The pandemic has made the need for our clinics stronger than ever as unemployment and uninsured rates remain high. We are especially excited for the opportunity in 2020 to recognize the work Ohio’s clinics are doing to address those gaps.”

Born in Punjab, India, and raised in the United Kingdom, Nandra attended the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff and received his medical degrees. After serving as a general practice physician for several years in Canada and the United States, he participated in a geriatric fellowship that changed his life.

Nandra then completed an internal medicine residency as well as a fellowship in cardiovascular medicine. He has served as a physician for 44 years and currently practices interventional and general cardiology. Nandra has a history of helping uninsured patients for many years and has volunteered at the Ohio Valley Health Center ever since its inception in 2006. Nandra and his wife, Surinda, have three children.

In her nomination, Quillen said Nandra has been a faithful volunteer medical provider of the Ohio Valley Health Center, previously known as Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center, since the doors opened in 2006. He is one of the original “founding fathers” of the health center and remains the longest serving volunteer.

“Dr. Nandra has one of the busiest private cardiovascular practices in Jefferson County, and he is well known for his excellent care in the Tri-State Area, yet has always been faithful to the mission of OVHC from its inception. In fact, Dr. Nandra has provided more than 2,000 patient visits over the period of time. His commitment, compassion, consistency and overall quality care make him in outstanding candidate as Physician of the Year.”

Quillen detailed how Nandra’s involvement enables the center to do things it couldn’t otherwise.

“One of the most unique aspects of Dr. Nandra’s care occurs when a patient presents with cardiac concerns that indicate the need for an EKG. We are able to perform that test in the office and immediately send the results to Dr. Nandra’s cell phone. He will then evaluate the tests results and promptly provide the treating provider with a diagnosis and treatment plan,” she explained in her nomination form.

“Dr. Nandra has always been available to our office for calls or concerns about any and all of our patients. I can never remember a time when I have contacted him about a complicated patient or inquired about a medication where he was too busy to help the pressing concern,” she said, adding “He is very generous. There have been many times when an uninsured patient has needed expensive cardiac medications, and Dr. Nandra has provided those from his own private practice.

“He also is our primary collaborator with many of our nurse practitioners, and without his collaboration and oversight, many additional patients would not be able to have medical care. He is always available to answer questions and is always willing to follow up on their patients when needed,” she continued.

“We have a medication room/pharmacy that enables our medical providers to provide patients with necessary medications on the day of their visit. Our small pharmacy is registered under Dr. Nandra’s license. Our medication room is maintained by a volunteer pharmacist and qualified staff but still requires his attention and oversight. Being able to provide patients with medications at the time of their visit is a true gift, and we are grateful that Dr. Nandra has blessed us with this powerful tool for treatment,” Quillen commented.

Nandra has been the medical director since 2014 and continues in that role “demonstrating respect and kindness” to staff and patients.

Quillen identified what she described as Nandra’s unique qualities.

“Dr. Nandra places much emphasis on the personal and compassionate aspect of medical care,” she noted. “One of Dr. Nandra’s special qualities includes his quiet approach to care with all of his patients. He is always compassionate and encouraging to everyone he sees. There have been many times he has rushed and arrived at the clinic in his scrubs from a very long and busy day in his private office and hospital to then sit quietly and listen to a patient struggling with his/her personal health issues,” Quillen continued. “He never sees his volunteer service at OVHC as a burden or obligation, but rather as an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of those who are hurting and in need of help. His unique skill set as a cardiovascular physician, coupled with a generous spirit and kind heart, set him apart as a jewel in the Ohio Valley.”

Her nomination also addressed Nandra’s contributions and accomplishments to the clinic and community.

“Dr. Nandra is always willing to take care of our most complicated patients. The most memorable experience etched in my memory occurred nearly 10 years ago,” Quillen began. “An uninsured patient of OVHC was scheduled for a free colonoscopy screening through our local hospital. Before the procedure was started, the staff detected a cardiac concern. That patient was scheduled to see Dr. Nandra, and through examinations and testing, it was determined that this patient needed a heart pacemaker for a complete heart block. Dr. Nandra took it upon himself to negotiate and collaborate with a medical sales representative to donate the pacemaker. He then went on to arrange the surgical time and space at our local hospital for free and then performed and completed the procedure. The patient’s life was significantly changed that day all because of Dr. Nandra’s investment of time and energy combined with his willingness to serve our vulnerable population so faithfully,” she noted.

During the Zoom awards presentation, Nandra said he felt “totally humbled” by the award.

“We are sent to this earth to serve mankind,” Nandra commented. “I think that is something we need to recognize. I think most of us who go into the health care profession it’s usually because we have this little extra thing we want to do for humanity, and I found my niche here, I guess, in this place.”

Miller had occasion to meet Nandra during a visit in July to the local health center.

“He’s amazing,” Miller said. “I think most doctors go into medicine because they’re caring and giving individuals. He is so warm and he’s so caring and genuine and when you talk to him you just can really feel that from him,” she said.

Miller also had met with the center’s board and community partners at that time for some “strategic planning” as part of her visit to clinics entails. “That is an amazing organization, and it’s such an enormously needed organization,” she said, describing the OVHC as one of the stronger clinics “and the services that they provide are very impactful to the health of the whole community.”

Having the awards acknowledgment is important, according to Miller, who noted Ohio in general has an “army of people” who go out and volunteer, “expecting nothing in return, not a penny, not even a thank you.

“It’s important because servants like Dr. Nanda do this, and they get surprised when somebody says thank you. And it’s important to remind them occasionally, that they are appreciated, they do mean something to us all. That’s one of the biggest reasons is because they forget about themselves and think more about others, and it is a good thing once in a while to remind them about themselves, how important they are,” Miller said.

A committee reviews the nominations for the awards, Miller explained of what involves a difficult decision.

“It’s always so darn hard, because there are amazing volunteers, but usually there’s one that will just kind of rise to the top, and that’s how it’s always close, but Dr. Nandra just clearly what he’s done has just been amazing,” Miller said.

Asked what she would most like to get across to readers about the CHN, Miller responded, “It’s a time in our history that’s unprecedented, and we’re all facing so many challenges, and the need for free and charitable clinics is only going to grow. People have lost jobs, and our world has changed, and so my hope is that people, if they’re able, to remember those that are doing charitable work and those that are reaching out and trying to help other people, especially during the Christmas season and the holiday season is just a time to reflect beyond yourself,” she said, noting donations can be made to the OVHC.

For information on the CHN, visit www.charitablehealth.org. For information on the OVHC, visit ovhealthcenter.org or call (7400 283-2856.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiask@heraldstaronline.com.)

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